Level 5 Leadership

Leadership is hard to define. We all have different ideas about what traits are needed for a high performing leader.

How does a high performing leader consistently increase and sustain results?

Jim Collins has defined the highest level of leadership as a Level 5 leader with an unexpected paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.  The summary of Level 5 leadership that follows may encourage reflection and personal goal setting. We all aspire to be a Level 5 leader as we take our organizations from good to great.

A Level 5 leader is incredibly humble, never waivers or doubts, and leads others to follow a cause with intense professional will.  Getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus while creating a culture of high expectation is essential for an organization aiming to go from good to great. The empirical data tells us going from good to great can’t be done without a Level 5 leader.

The Level 5 leader believes the transformation within the organization will happen once the right people are in place and there is a culture of high expectations. They act with extraordinary consistency to produce the desired results.

To enhance the culture of high expectation, the Level 5 leader looks outward to give recognition while looking in the mirror to take responsibility. The Level 5 leader always recognizes others for all achievement results.

Difference Between Level 4 and Level 5 Leader

The distinct difference between Level 4 and Level 5 is found in the essence of the leader’s intention.  Level 4 leaders are quite often charismatic, larger-than-life individuals with a distinct goal to have others follow them.  A Level 5 leader is often found to be modest and willful, humble and fearless as they inspire others to follow a cause.  Level 5 leaders lead teams to high performance.  A Level 5 leaders’ ambition is not for themselves but for their organization.  They plan for and select superb successors which in turn elevates their organization and sustains success.  The X-factor for Level 5 leadership is humility and the pursuit of something bigger and more enduring then themselves.


As Collins points out, inside the black box of shifting from good to great, the seed exists within leaders. Channeling energy to build a great organization, and under the right circumstances, the seed can begin to develop perhaps with self-reflection, a mentor, loving parents, a significant life experience, or other factors.  The inner development of a person leads to Level 5 leadership.  Collins encourages us to continue to practice the Level 4 leadership skills while reaching toward Level 5.  All of us can become Level 5 leaders.


Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers

Collins, J. (2005). “Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve.” Harvard Business Review: July-August 2005.

Collins, J. (2017) Level 5 Leadership https://www.jimcollins.com/media_topics/media.html#*Level5Leadership


Laura Swann, Studer Education

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